This morning the ACCC announced it would be taking Valve to court over its current refund policy. Today we spoke to ACCC Chairman Rod Sims and Regional Director Sam Di Scerni about the issue and some of the reasoning behind today's statement.
The ACCC is alleging that Valve has made misleading statements to Australian consumers regarding their refund rights, but Valve's refund policy clearly states that refunds aren't provided "unless required by local law". We asked the ACCC if this had any bearing on the decision to take this issue to court.
Sam Di Scerni claimed the ACCC was aware of this clause, but believed it was largely irrelevant in the context of other language in Valve's terms and conditions.
"It does say that," he admitted, "but there's a lot of text that uses language that says all sort of stuff about warranties and denies rights. Just having one disclaimer doesn't void that."
"What we always ask is what does the reasonable consumer see and understand when he looks to get a refund," added Rod Sims. "A lot of this is basically fine print advertising."
According to Rod, this case is about highlighting an issue to the Steam users who aren't aware of their rights under Australian consumer law. These people, he believes, are being misled by Valve's current policy.
"It's the people who don't call us that are a concern for us," he said. "The people who think a refund isn't available so they don't even try, because the fact is that Australian law does allow consumers to get refunds."
The ACCC has fielded numerous complaints about the policy, but wants to focus on the larger issues at play.
"We have a number of examples when people have been denied refunds," he explained, "but it's pointless to march in thousands of people. We are focusing on the bigger issue here."
Earlier this morning Valve informed us it was "making every effort to cooperate with the Australian officials" — we asked Rod if the ACCC had been in contact with Valve regarding the refunds issue. What was the current situation, and what pushed the ACCC to take this issue to court?
"We've had a lot of contact with Valve," said Rod, "but sometimes these companies say if you don't take us to court we won't stop. In that situation we have make a judgement call. We have to judge how bad the behaviour is.
"In this case we judged that the behaviour was so bad that we had to take it to court."
According to Rod, this is the kind of case that could be settled in months, if Valve decides to co-operate (and their previous statement suggests they will). But if they decide to fight the case, things may drag out.
"If they [Valve] want to reach an early resolution it could be over in a month or two. They’re a huge company with massive resources, so if they want to fight it could go one or two years. we’ll wait and see to see if they want to do."